I was recently talking to a friend whose father pastors a megachurch in a majority world country. She and her husband had just left to plant a new church focused on the next generation. She explained, “We can’t lead the way my dad did. The very nature of the church has to change.”
She shared the story of a young lady named Camilla, who reached out to her through Instagram and expressed her suicidal thoughts. They met over coffee, and Camilla talked for over an hour about her struggles. Then, she asked if she could be prayed over. So there they were, in a public space, when my friend placed her hand on Camilla’s hands to pray. Surprisingly, Camilla took her hand and placed it on her forehead instead, stretching out her own arms wide. After that experience, my friend said, “I can’t do this from the platform. I can’t do this online. She needed me to be there with her physically.”
From an Instagram message to arms stretched wide in a coffee shop—this is what missions look like today. We stand on the brink of a digital revolution that promises to connect the entire world, bringing high-speed digital access to nearly everyone on the planet. As the Church, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment where we must understand the significance of digital missions, the importance of maintaining a hybrid approach, and the potential for transformative impact.
There are two perspectives that keep the Church from seeing the full potential of digital missions: reluctance to view digital spaces as sacred spaces and underestimating the value of digital ministry.
Although the idea of digital spaces needs more theological treatment, as a creation of God’s creation (humans), digital technology does fall under the reign of God’s Kingdom. What we must understand is that the digital space is no longer only reserved for content distribution. There are now fully virtual churches like theRobloxian Christians and others in the metaverse. It is the presence of God that makes a community, not spatial proximity.
The Gospel has always been countercultural, addressing the specific needs of every generation and culture it encounters. As missionaries, we must discern what is missing from each culture that Jesus seeks to restore and renew. For Gen Z and Gen Alpha, authentic community and physical connections are increasingly crucial due to their lived experiences in a digital world. However, the way they initially receive information and connect with others is through the digital sphere. Therefore, the very nature of the Church must adapt to meet their needs.
While digital tools offer unprecedented access and convenience, they cannot fully replace the power of physical presence and proximity. As the story of Camilla exemplifies, there are moments when ministry requires us to be physically present, to listen intently, and to offer comfort in person. I believe the impact of today’s ministry will be found in the fusion of digital reach and physical proximity, creating transformative encounters.
The digital realm, with its ever-increasing invasiveness and ubiquity, holds immense potential for missions. In digital places, relational connection matters more than the technology itself. The advent of Web 3.0, with its virtual reality and AI advancements, will only amplify the impact of technology. Rather than fearing or resisting this change, we must embrace it. Technology is not slowing down; it is speeding up, and as the Church, we must ride the wave of innovation and utilize these digital spaces to advance the Kingdom.
So, the question is, how do we, as the Church, effectively do missions digitally? OneHope has partnered with Wheaton College Billy Graham Center and other digital ministries to release this paper titled “The Digital Frontier of Mission: Understanding the Landscape and Ecosystem.” This resource delves deeper into the challenges and opportunities of digital missions, offering insights that can transform how you and your church engage in missions. I encourage you to read it with an open mind and consider how it can shape your approach to digital ministry.
Remember, the face and shape of missions have changed, and as the Church, we must adapt to the medium while holding fast to the unchanging message of the Gospel. By embracing a digital hybrid approach, we can navigate the digital frontier with faith, creativity, and a deep commitment to authentic community and relationship. Let us embark on this digital journey together, guided by the Holy Spirit, as we seek to make a lasting impact on individuals and communities worldwide. The digital frontier awaits, and with God’s grace, we can effectively do missions in a rapidly evolving globalized world.